I assisted Pierre in making Tchakchouka, a dish he remembers from his time in Algeria. It is a kind of ratatouille — but to me it is the better dish. The recipe appears in many Mediterranean traditions. I have found Algerian, Jewish, Tunisian, Moroccan & Kabile recipes, all have pretty much the same ingredients with variations of meat or eggs — at times coming close to the famous huevos rancheros! We made two versions: one with eggs and another without, which we served with lamb chops. You can eat tchakchouka hot, luke-warm or cold, as you prefer, or as the weather suggests. You will not regret the effort and can make big batches of this super delicious fragrant summer dish. Don’t wait, make yours now!
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
2-3 green & red peppers, roasted, peeled & sliced
1 cup of water
Paprika, ground coriander seeds
Fresh coriander & parsley chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
4 eggs (optional)
*Roast the peppers over your stove. When charred wrap them in newspaper. Wait until they cool off & then peel them, discard seeds, cut lengthwise into thin strips.
*Dip tomatoes in boiling water for one minute. Remove & cool, then peel, seed & dice.
* Heat the oil over a medium flame in a deep skillet. Stir in the paprika & ground coriander seeds and let cook slightly to color the oil, about 10-15 seconds.
* Add the onions, sauté until onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 4 minutes; add garlic, cook for another minute or so.
* Add tomatoes and bring to a rapid simmer. Add peppers, parsley & fresh coriander, water and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes. Add more water as needed.
* If you want to add eggs, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. Crack eggs, one by one, into a small bowl and slip each egg from the bowl into an indentation.
* Cover and simmer another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Voilà! & enjoy!
I always look forward to go eat at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station (New York City). The food, the decor, the dishes & even the waiters make you feel it could be 100 years earlier. You can always rely on the freshness and the great variety of the oysters, but what fascinates me the most is their signature dish: the Stew / Pan-Roast. I like to sit at the counter as near as possible to the fixed steam-sleeved swivel pots. There, a dexterous cook prepares your pan roast to order. The Ur dish is the Pan Roast made with oysters — though today also made with cherry clams, scallops, shrimp & even lobster— then butter, clam juice, Heinz Chile Sauce —spicy ketchup—, toast points, Worcestershire Sauce, celery salt & heavy cream are added to the pan. The mixture is brought to a boil, swirled onto your plate and once it has been generously sprinkled with paprika it is brought to you piping hot with a few packages of crackers. The Stew Roast is pretty similar minus the point toast and the Heinz Chili Sauce and I must say I prefer that version. I haven’t made it at home yet but below you will find one published in the New York Times in 1974. It is a really very easy and quick to make once you have the ingredients. Anyhow as I said before a premium destination for Pierre and I and when we went last week I recorded our impressions:
Listen to our live impressions at the Oyster Bar!
1 August 1974, New York Times, pg. 32:
OYSTER PAN ROAST
8 freshly opened oysters
1 pat of butter
1 tablespoon chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A few drops of lemon juice
1/4 cup oyster liquor
Celery salt, a dash
4 ounces cream
1 piece of dry toast (if desired)
Place all but the cream in a deep pan and cook briskly for a minute, stirring constantly. Add cream. When it comes to boil, pour over toast in a soup plate and serve
ps: Before or after the Oyster Bar do not miss the “whispering gallery”.
We are not particularly attached to any specific Christmas tradition although this year we were eager to have an intimate family dinner at our new place and to take out the family heirloom china that had been in boxes for a while. So after consulting with husband, sons, and daughter in law, we agreed on a menu:
Home made Foie Gras au Torchon
Fisher Island Oysters
Roasted Suckling Pig
Apple & Chestnut Bourbon dressing
Cinnamon Rice Pudding
I had never made Foie au torchon before but my friend, chef Pierre Landet, the executive chef at Cercle Rouge, suggested this excellent idea —by the way, Congrats to Pierre soon to be made Maître Cuisinier or Master Chef! This simple recipe keeps the foie velvety & easy to deal with — even though I have to confess I missed one step.
First break the lobes and delicately take out the nerves and veins. Some people get crazy about the cleaning process and turn their foie into a battlefield. My previous experiences on making terrines had taught me that there is no need for over cleaning. I then seasoned the foie with salt and pepper and rubbed some Armagnac on it. Next step is to put the lobes on top of each other and roll the foie very tightly in cheesecloth —like a sausage — and poach it in a broth at 140ºF for 5/7 minutes. Now cool your foie in a bath of cold water with ice cube to stop the cooking. This is the step I missed! So mine was a little over done but no one complained.
Our next course was a dozen Fisher Island oysters each. It gave me a good work out to open the 5 dozen. They were extremely fresh, all very tightly shut. The first taste of a Fisher Island oyster comes as a hit of seawater, followed by the very clean taste of the firm texture of the shiny silvery mollusk. Our favorite way to eat oysters is to add a few sprinkles of lemon, Pierre (Joris) likes to add some fresh ground pepper on his. The experiment this year was to add a ½ teaspoon of a fresh homemade salsa in the oyster shell. Pierre remains skeptic, the kids more enthusiastic; I do like the bite of the salsa on a few of them. We paired them with a pleasant Sancerre. No other info on that, as the bottle got recycled before I could take a picture of it!
Then came the “piece de resistance:” our roasted suckling pig, an ever so festive and ever so delicious dish. We ordered it from d’Artagnan, and upon it’s arrival we lovingly massaged the piglet with a marinade of lemon, olive oil, thyme and garlic; this can be done 24 to 12 hours before roasting it. We had decided against stuffing it in order to keep our meal “lighter” and most of all to keep the roasting time down! It took about 3 hours for our 10lbs piglet. Pierre (Joris) handled the roasting, he diligently basted it every twenty minutes and covered and uncovered it with aluminum foil as he felt the need to. It turned out perfect, done but moist! I made last minute jus —or light gravy— by deglazing the piglet’s pan with very thinly chopped onions —should have been shallots but I had none— flambé’d it with bourbon, added 1 teaspoon of arrowroot, then some chicken broth and 1 cup of re-hydrated cèpes (boletus), salt & pepper to taste. It was lovely to pour some on the fluffy buttery mashed potatoes (w/ a hint of nutmeg).
The apple, chestnut & Bourbon dressing (with sautéed minced onions) enhanced the pork flavor. There is a beautiful complementarity between pork and chestnuts, and as for the apples that had slightly caramelized, they added a pleasing hint of tartness.
The Corbières L’Enclos 2005 —from Domaine des 2 Anes— brought the last touch of bliss to the dish. This organic blend of mostly Grenache with Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah grapes has an earthy, rich and supple taste that literally “talks to me”!
The light, refreshing Ecuadorian cinnamon rice pudding was a Christmas present from our good friend Eleana and it came as a good conclusion to our excellent meal.
Well, the final punctuation was the digestif & the Laubade Armagnac did bring a few spirits down! Santé to you all!
Until then I had seen them only naked, brown and dry; but on Saturday I got to see them dressed, green and fresh! How on earth did I miss seeing fresh chickpeas in their full regalia until that day? I am a little embarrassed to admit to it, but as the French saying goes: un moment de honte est vite passé —a moment of shame is soon over! & the excitement makes up for the embarrassment!
We had planned to meet our BlogoBung friends Larry Litt and Eleanor Heartney for a food tour in Jackson Heights, Queens —their neighborhood for 10 years, and often called one of the most exotic places in New York City. After a delightful & tasty two hour aperitif of talking, munching — on Larry’s appetizing homemade Hummus & Salmon patés — & sipping Lillet at their house we went out for a wonderful Indian meal at Mehfil a Gujurati style restaurant.
I had Dhal Makhini —creamy black lentils sautéed in butter with freshly ground spices— a restorative dish full of flavors with wonderful fresh coriander overtones that helped me get over my jet-lag. I got a taste of Eleanor and Larry’s delicate Tandoori Salmon & ofPierre’s rather bland Lamb Pasanda. Then we went for a walk and stopped at Patel Brothers —37-27 74th Street, (718) 898-3445 —“the granddaddy” of Indian groceries as quoted by the New York Times. That is where I discovered the fresh chickpeas. First, I saw them in the freezer, I grabbed a bag as I had never seen them green before, but Larry said “Wait! they’ll have them fresh in the produce section”. Larry knows the store like the palm of his hand and sure enough, here were the little green pods of hara chana —green chickpeas.
I filled up half a bag while Pierre, guided by Larry’s expertise, selected Garam Masala & Curry powders. We also got mustard seeds, fresh turmeric, black lentils & Arrow Root flour—I like it to make beurre manié, it is much lighter than wheat flour and gives the sauce a smoother consistency (a good option for my friend Anne B.!). Anyhow we took leave of our friends, our minds —and stomachs— filled with colors & scents.
Tuesday I finally got around to shell the peas for lunch. I am glad Pierre assisted me because unlike any other shell beans I know of, chickpeas have one pea per pod, only very occasionally two! A time consuming task that I would recommend doing while watching a good documentary or hire your guests while having aperitifs! (the fresh chick peas take no time to cook at all)
Once shelled, it turned out to be a small quantity so I decided to improvise a version of a Hara Chana (green chickpeas), Aloo (potato), Patha gobi (cabbage) and Gajar (carrots) curry that turned out to be best vegetable stew I ever made. I think I was still very inspired by the tastes of the lentil dish I had. The fresh chickpeas are very tender with a subtle nutty flavor and a very smooth texture. Enhanced by the fragrant –medium hot—spices, this combination brings up a remarkable and specific savor. Once again I have to say that the decision of what to put in was made by default! Except for the chickpeas and the spices I literally gathered what was left over in the fridge and that was:
½ onion, diced
1 big carrot , diced
¼ cabbage, cut thick julienne
1 potato, diced
2 garlic cloves, slivered
½ bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 small piece of fresh turmeric, minced),
1 small piece of fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon of Garam Masala
1 tablespoon of Curry powder
Salt/Black pepper /Water or vegetable broth.
Coat a skillet with olive oil —ghee would have been better but I didn’t have enough butter in my fridge to make clarified butter,— and under medium heat sauté the onions until soft.
Add all the vegetables including turmeric, ginger and garlic, sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the garam Masala & Curry powder, salt and pepper. Mix well and add water to barely cover the veggies.
Once the liquid starts boiling, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15/20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
I served it with brown rice —Indian style rice would be obviously better, but that is what I had available— and garnish with fresh cilantro. Namasté to Larry Eleanor!
Mussels contain high doses of Omega-3, a fish oil compound that nutritionist say is helpful in reducing cholesterol. Farming mussels is believed to have been invented in France in 1235 by an Irishman named Patrick Walton. The story goes that Patrick Walton left Ireland to escape the police. His boat wrecked on the coast of France. He tried to feed himself by trapping sea birds. To this purpose he planted stakes into the water at the edge of the beach and stretched nets over them. The sea birds ignored the contraption, but after a time he noticed that mussels had attached themselves to the stakes and were growing rapidly. Cute story! But there are some indications that the Gauls had cultivated mussels even before the roman invasion.
The most common way of preparing mussel is as Moules Marinière; our version today is an extension of this traditional preparation. It is my original version based on several French Southwestern recipes and inspired by what I found at the Bay Ridge Greenmarket this morning and I call it Country Mussel or Moules Paysanne.
First a few tips about mussels:
How much mussels to buy per person?
To serve them as a main dish, get as much as one pound per person. As an appetizer half a pound should do it.
Do’s and Dont’s about store bought mussels
-Discard dead mussels: that is if one is wide open, it’s probably dead. If they are open only slightly, a quarter of an inch or so it should be fine. How do you tell if a mussel is merely gaping to breathe or if it is dead? Simply put ice on the mussels for 15 minutes then tap them gently. They should begin to close. If they move, they are alive therefore can be eaten – even if they don’t close all the way. If a mussel won’t move, and is gaping widely, it is probably dead, past it’s shelf life and should be discarded.
-Throw out broken-shelled mussels.
-De-beard mussels. Most likely you will not have to do that, and good for you. I remember cleaning kilos of them in my early restaurant time and that’s ain’t fun. Today they are de-bearded before you buy them, but once a while one is missed and you get to see what the beard looks like. The “beard” also known as Byssal, or byssus threads they are the strong, silky fibers made from proteins that are used by mussels to attach to rocks, pilings, or other substrates.-Discard heavy mud filled mussels. Some extra-heavy mussels that are closed may be full of mud. Doesn’t happened very often but worth checking because only one of these unloading its cargo in your kettle of broth will spoil the entire dish. Usually a “mudder” can be discovered by simply squeezing the shells and sliding them apart from each other.
-Rinse them just before using them
-Do not soak them
-Do not over wrap or purchase over-wrapped mussels. Remember they are alive, do not suffocate them in the fridge or do not store mussels in airtight containers.-Do Not overcook your mussels-Do Not buy mussels that are displayed in live lobster tanks or in shellfish display tanks.
-Do Not eat mussels if you believe you are allergic to shellfish.
Recipe for 2lbs of Mussels
Sauté 4 shallots and 1/2 lb of Italian turkey sausage (or sausage, or Italian sausage or pancetta, or ham) in a tablespoon of butter and oil (addition of oil will keep the butter from browning); when meat has rendered and the shallots are transparent, add 1 or 2 (depending on how you like it) skinned, seeded and diced fresh tomatoes (canned if not in season). Mix it all well, add a generous amount of fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste.
Add all the mussels (that have just been rinsed), mix well. Add about 1 large glass of dry white wine (about a glass per two pound bag). Close the pot tightly and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add a generous amount of finely chopped parsley or cilantro or basil and also garlic it you would like your dish stronger and especially if your meat was not already spiced.
Mix it all up and let cook for two more minutes. Please do not over cook them, or they will become rubbery. At this point all your mussels are open and ready to be eaten!
Serve in soup plates with a lot of fresh bread to dunk into the broth. Eat them with your fingers and use the shell to scoop out morsels—If you are from Bay Ridge get Country bread at Yanni’s Restaurant on 4th & Ovinton.
Voilà! and now please do watch another one of my homemade videos. The Country Mussel recipe was literally filmed with the left hand while cooking —and then eating, just watch until the end! with the right one. I didn’t know I could do this until today. Honestly tell me if it is watchable and/or helpful.